The Houghton Hotel

A staycation has rarely featured in my vocabulary, let alone in my diary.

If I’m checking into a hotel, it’s always because I’m travelling. Why bother staying in a hotel so close to home that you could save oodles of cash by sleeping in your own bed instead?

Besides, think of all the time you save by not having to figure out how to turn off all the lights at night, or how to close the curtains because you haven’t noticed they’re shut by a motor, not manually.

But the lockdown last year taught us how to adapt and appreciate pleasures whenever we can. So I packed an overnight bag and drove for all of 20 minutes to check in at The Houghton Hotel.

What I hadn’t realised is what big business Staycations have become. Hotels are only managing to survive thanks to local visitors, and they’re a non-travelling treat for couples, parents, families, lovers and even singletons who fancy time away from their routine or from their relatives.

Indulgence abounds at The Houghton, with five swimming pools, a huge spa, fine dining restaurants, a genuinely friendly vibe and big comfy beds. There’s an airy spaciousness that makes you breathe in deeply and claim a little more room for yourself. You can feel the tension rolling off and a light-heartedness rekindling. You want to stretch out, luxuriate in the lounges, loll by the pool, get playful on the putting green and expand your knowledge of food and drink with the innovative menus. If you need a fitness fix, you have access to the Fitbar gym, which also offers fitness classes.

Another admirable thing is a training scheme for youngsters introduced by the hotel’s CEO Arnold Forman. Arnold is also a director of Afrika Tikkun, an organisation that offers cradle-to-career support for the underprivileged. Youngsters who fancy a career in hospitality can apply to Afrika Tikkun for a year of work experience in the hotel, including workshops with experts and practical experience in all its departments. Three of the first 20 trainees have just been given permanent jobs, while the others have earned certificates confirming that they’ve trained in a world-class hotel. And this new hotel really is top notch, voted as Africa’s Leading New Hotel in 2020 in the World Travel Awards.

My stay began with lunch at Pebbles, with a bar and restaurant tables by the central pool. Later I swam in the heated pool at the spa, figured out the Nespresso machine in my ‘king suite’ and just enjoyed the pleasure of unwinding. Lovely as the Houghton is, the room décor is a touch too muted for my flamboyant taste. I know various shades of grey is ultra-chic right now, but a splash or three of colour would make everything a little warmer. Still, that’s my only criticism, and my sense of décor is notoriously negligible.

In the evening my group reconvened for sundowners on the balcony of Sejour restaurant, then moved inside for dinner created by talented chef Freddie Dias, fresh from international experience and a stint at The Pot Luck Club in Cape Town.

Most of the dishes blend unusual flavours, like the exotic octopus dish with a blood orange glaze, parsley puree, potato aioli and fennel salad. My favourite part was the Sejour S’mores dessert, with chocolate, miso, raspberry and crème fraiche, and finally, if you could fit them in, exquisite chocolate fondants served with the coffee.

In the morning we entertained ourselves with 10 holes on the mini putting green. That was great fun, and reminded me why I gave up trying to play golf a few years ago. Serious golfers can tackle the Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course that the hotel overlooks.

Breakfast afterwards was a leisurely affair involving pastries, smoothies and a salmon bagel with about a half a kilo of salmon and avo piled high on it.

Then it was back to the spa to switch between the sauna, the steam room and cooling dips in the chilly outdoor pool. Just bliss! Finally I had a pummelling back massage in one of the 10 treatment rooms, although there really wasn’t any stress left to remove by then.

That’s when I started thinking that maybe it’s worth setting aside the cash for a monthly staycation. Just a night – ok, maybe two – in luxurious surroundings with good food, fine wine and the sheer decadence of being close to home but feeling a world away.

* Prices start from R2,043 a night for a king suite, while luxury penthouses with two en-suite bedrooms, entertainment areas, a private jacuzzi and pool cost from R18,168 a night.

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